Saturday, 30 November 2013

Warfare

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, - 2 Corinthians 10:3-4


Paul changes tack a bit here. Here expands his instruction to the people a little bit as he addresses other issues they need to to deal with. 

But he don't want them to think that he is just being 'bossy' or abusing his apostolic authority. Paul clarifies the reason for his exhortation. Hera d to say these things because we are fighting a spiritual battle. While we live in and have to deal with a physical and material world, we are fighting a spiritual world. 

There are some who try to tell us that we don't have to fight. They say that if we just had the faith to accept victory by faith we wouldn't have to fight. We could just let go and Jesus would do it all for us. That sounds great, but I keep reading about this warfare that we are involved in. I read about battles warfare and about we are to endure hardness as good soldiers. 

So we fight. But I think we have a problem. 

We are in a war, but sometimes it seems that we think we have to fight this war the way the world fights a war. We think we can use the world's methods to fight. We think that if we could just change enough laws and impact the government and shout loudly enough and protest visibly enough and march in the streets and hate the politicians enough and own enough guns we are going to score some kind of victory. 

In other words we try to fight a spiritual war with carnal weapons. 

That's not how we are supposed to fight. We don't war according to the flesh. We war according to the mighty power of God which alone has the power to pull down the strongholds. 

In the book Holiness J.C. Ryle does an excellent job describing our warfare and the impact it should have. 

'The Christian's fight is a good fight, because it does good to the world. All other wars have a devastating, ravaging, and injurious effect. The march of an army through a land is an awful scourge to the inhabitants. Wherever it goes it impoverishes, wastes, and does harm. Injury to persons, property, feelings, and morals invariably accompanies it. Far different are the effects produced by Christian soldiers. Wherever they live they are a blessing.'

I wonder how the world sees us as a church and as individuals as we fight this war. What impact does the march of God's army have on the world today? How are we doing in pulling down strongholds using our current methods? 

The early church eventually defeated Rome, but they did it by loving and caring and blessing. What are we doing? 

Thursday, 28 November 2013

How does our giving measure up?

For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! - 2 Corinthians 9.12-15

It all comes down to this. There is a reason why we can give the way we are supposed to give. There is a motivation. There is a point  that allows us to be cheerful givers. 

All of our giving has a basis. There is an example that every gift we give can be compared to. 

'Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.'

If we could ever stop to think about what He gave we could get a proper perspective on our own giving.  He gave it all for me. What am I willing to give to see His work done today. 

How does my gift compare to His indescribable gift? 

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Cheerful

Therefore I thought it necessary to exhort the brethren to go to you ahead of time, and prepare your generous gift beforehand, which you had previously promised, that it may be ready as a matter of generosity and not as a grudging obligation. But this I say:He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. - 2 Corinthians 9:5-7

It is amazing how much time Paul spends on the topic of Biblical giving and how wrongly we have gotten it (I realise 'gotten it' is not great English, but I like how it sounded here). However we put it, we need to sort out our attitude about giving. 

Paul deals with attitude. He reminds the Corinthians that they have promised a generous gift. He has already reminded them of how important it was to carry through on their promise. But then he teaches them about how they are supposed to give. 

'Give out of your generosity. Don't give grudgingly and just because you have to. If you give sparingly that is all you are going to receive. If you give bountifully that is how you are going to reap. Give what's in your heart. God loves a cheerful giver.' 

That doesn't mean what I once heard a preacher say. 'God loves a cheerful giver, but He'll take your money even if you are grumpy about it.' 

From what I have read so far I think the real principle is pretty simple. If you aren't going to give in abounding grace, if you are going to give grudgingly, if you can't give cheerfully, you might as well not give at all. 

It is obvious here that what really matters to God is the giving heart. Is it a drudgery, or is it a joy? Believe it or not. God doesn't need our money to do His work. He is not dependent on us to meet the needs of His children. But we don't give we miss out on the joy of having a part of God's giving. We miss out on the ultimate cheerfulness. 

For the believer 'give till hurts' is nonsense. For us, we should start giving cheerfully and keep giving with the joy that we are having a part in God's promise to care for His people! 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Honourable Titus

 But thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. For he not only accepted the exhortation, but being more diligent, he went to you of his own accord. And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind, avoiding this:that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift which is administered by us— providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. - 2 Corinthians 8.16-21

The Judean Chrisitans were in trouble. I am not certain, but I think I remember reading that there was a famine. They were suffering from a natural disaster. Whenever that happens and unaffected Christians find out about it we are supposed to give to meet their needs. I can't help but think of the desperate needs of the Filipino Christians at the moment. There is no way there should be a lack there when we have such an excess here. I hate to wander (well, I sorta hate to wander) but I don't understand how churches can have multi-million dollar (or pound, or euro) facilities with caf├ęs and sports complexes and all the while the church in the Philippines is in such suffering. We, the church outside of the he Philippines should be giving to the point where they are saying 'stop, we have enough!'

Rant over and back to the direct topic. Someone had to take the relief to the suffering believers. They needed someone they could trust. That is something else we need to consider. We need to be wise in our giving and make sure that it is going to be administered properly. 

Titus was the man they could trust. Also, to make it easier for Titus they sent another brother with him. That way no one could make a false accusation. It is important that, no matter who it is, there is accountability in dealing with financial matters. 

Paul also mentions what happens when this kind of giving takes place. Such gives are a part of the God's glorification. Giving is far more than just throwing a few bob in the offering. 

Anyway, Titus was chosen because of his character. He was known for doing the honourable thing. Titus was honourable before God and man. 

I wonder sometimes if we have lost that smile concept of honour. Is honour important to us or have we adopted the pragmatic world view of 'do what works?' 

It's like the old saying goes. It is as simple as 'do right till the stars fall.' 

Monday, 25 November 2013

Nothing in excess - nothing lacking

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality. As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”- 2 Corinthians 8:13-15

I thought about trying to was eloquent and show of my limited Bible knowledge or how much I am discovering about giving on this read through of 2 Corinthians. Instead I think I am just going to share what a friend posted on Facebook the other day. 

This really exemplifies the passage and the principle of 'nothing left over - nothing lacking' better than I could hope to. Enjoy and be challenged. 

Charles Wesley's example of giving. 

He was one of the great evangelists of the 18th Century, born in 1703. In 1731 he began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. In the first year his income was 30 pounds and he found he could live on 28 and so gave away two. 

In the second year his income doubled but he held his expenses even, and so he had 32 pounds to give away (a comfortable year's income). In the third year his income jumped to 90 pounds and gave away 62 pounds. In his long life Wesley's income advanced to as high as 1,400 pounds in a year. But he rarely let his expenses rise above 30 pounds. 

He said that he seldom had more than 100 pounds in his possession at a time. This so baffled the English Tax Commissioners that they investigated him in 1776 insisting that for a man of his income he must have silver dishes that he was not paying excise tax on. He wrote them, "I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want bread." 

When he died in 1791 at the age of 87 the only money mentioned in his will was the coins to be found in his pockets and dresser. Most of the 30,000 pounds he had earned in his life had been given away. He wrote, I cannot help leaving my books behind me whenever God calls me hence; but in every other respect, my own hands will be my executors. In other words, I will put a control on my spending myself, and I will go beyond the tithe for the sake of Christ and His Kingdom."

Finish the job

Finish it

And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. – 2 Corinthians 8.10-11

It is a wonderful thing to plan on giving to meet someone's needs. It is easy to have our hearts stirred and think how nice it would be to give. It is good to be planning how we are going to do it and making preparations. But that is not enough - there must be a completion of the task.

The particular context here is for the folks at Corinth to carry through and give what they have promised to give. For a full year they had been planning on doing something. Now it was time to do it.

There is however a general principle here. In everything we do there needs to be a carrying through on what we start.

I think we need to ask ourselves if there are projects or tasks or anything else that we have been talking about and planning on doing for a long time but have never quite got around to it.

There is a song we used to sing with our kids that I haven’t thought about in years. I can’t even remember all of it, but part of it put this concept pretty simple – ‘When you have a job to do, stick with it until it's through. Finish the job, finish the job. get it done.’


Are there areas where we need to heed that charge? 

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Christ our pattern

I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. - 2 Corinthians 8:8-9

Paul constantly tries to get away from the notion that giving is some kind of burdensome obligation. Here he tells a lesson about what giving really is. 

Christ is the ultimate pattern for giving. In case there is any doubt about giving Paul makes it clear what we have been given. 

Paul says he is testing how sincere the Corinthans are as givers. By the grace of God Jesus, who had all the riches and wealth of heaven and earth gave it all up to come to earht and die for us. He came to us in our spiritual poverty to make us spiritually rich. Jesus gave up all the splendour to lift us up to the gates of splendour. 

There then we have our pattern. We ought to give up what we have in order that others might be lifted up out of their poverty. 

How does my giving compare to Jesus' giving? 

Abound in the grace of giving

But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us— see that you abound in this grace also. - 2 Corinthians 8:7

Paul speaks of abundant living. He speaks of an abundance of faith and speech and diligence and love. He commends the Corinthians for all of that. 

But he goes on to say that they are missing a grace that they should not be missing. The context here is giving and he says 'see that you abound in this grace as well.' 

Giving as a grace is not something we often talk about. Too often giving is presented as an obligation or a standard or a requirement. We preach about a tithe with the idea that if a believer tithes they have done their giving duty. Some Christians even give because they feel like they are put on a guilt trip. we talk about the importance of cheerful giving, but we impose it by guilt. 

Here though, Paul uses an entirely different approach. He talks about the grace of giving. 

How often do we look at giving as a grace instead of a burden? When we do give, especially when we give to meet a need, this grace is obvious. We see the joy of the results of our giving. 

I think we lose out on the grace of giving when we see our giving going to the wrong kinds of stuff. We lose that grace when we see it used to expand materialism in the church. When we give to benefit ourselves we are not really giving so it is not longer grace. 

Why don't we see giving as a grace like all the other things described above? I don't know. I guess it just takes a step of faith to see giving as a grace. Faith and grace go hand in hand. Let's exercise the faith to abound in the grace of giving. 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Gave themselves



And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. - 2 Corinthians 8:5-6

When we think or talk about giving the first thing that normally comes to mind is giving money or resources. We often preach or teach that giving is how many dollars or pounds or euro or yen we drop into the offering plate. 

Sure, that is a part of giving. It is an important part. It is a necessary part. 

But that is not where giving gets its start. 

They first gave themselves to the Lord. 

This is really pretty simple. It doesn't take a lot of exposition. Giving everything else doesn't mean a whole lot unless we give ourselves first. It's what. Paul wrote to the church in Rome when he said 'I beseech you brothers to submit your bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord.' 

I guess it's because of my age or background, but I miss the old hymns. It's nice to be in a church that still uses some them. In 1874 Frances Havergal wrote a beautiful hymn that fits the idea of 'gave themselves to the Lord.' If we could ever get this down we would have no problems giving our financial gifts. May God help me have a life that fits this spirit. 

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
*Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Macedonian giving

Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia: that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality. For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. - 2 Corinthians 8:1-4

Giving. Yuck. The subject nobody really likes to talk about. Somehow giving, which should be one of the joys of being a Christian, has become a negative. People tend to think that giving is an option to avoid. We don't like it because it affects the one area most of us don't like touched - our pocketbooks. 

Sadly, we preachers don't really like to approach the issue of giving.  And that is a shame. It is part of what God has for us and it is part of true worship. Others have needs, and God has a way of meeting them, and we miss a blessing when we don't. 

Giving is based on the 'grace of God.' Paul talks anout how that grace was being bestowed on the churches of Macedonia was manifested I n their giving. 

These people were givers. In the middle of their troubles and poverty their joy abounded because they gave. Not only did the give out of their ability, they gave beyond their ability. These believes really knew how to give. They were excited to give. It looks like Paul tried to refuse their gift, perhaps be use he knew they had so little. But they 'implored them with much urgency' to receive the gift. 

Far too often it is like pulling teeth to get people to give. I would love to be a Macedonian giver who knew how to give with their spirit. 

May He give each of us a Macedonian spirit in our giving. 

We recently had a special blessing from a small church of Macedonian givers in West Virginia. This little church  with only a handful of members sent us a cheque for $1500 for our children's and youth works. Can you imagine what it would be like if all of us were Macedonian givers? 

Godly sorrow

For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. - 2 Corinthians 7.8-10

One of the things we always worked on with our children was the importance of saying 'I'm sorry' when they had hurt someone or done something wrong. That's the way we tend to do it. I was watching a rugby match a few years ago. The referee had a mic so you could hear his comments. At one point two opposing players had been going at each other for a while. The official had enough and called them aside. The image was great. There was a relatively short and small official standing between two giants. After his lecture he said to them, 'tell him you're sorry' then he repears it to the other player. Both of there  meekly said 'I'm sorry.' 

In retrospect I am not so sure that making someone say 'I'm sorry' without dealing with the issue is such a smart idea. I'm not too sure, but I think we might just be cheapening the meaning of 'I'm sorry.' It may be a case of being sorry that they are caught, instead of sorry for their action or words. 

Paul dealt with being sorry here. He tells the Corinthians that they were 'sorry for a while' for the things he had addressed in his first letter. It's that 'sorry for a while' bit that is the problem. Far too often we can be sorry, but only for a bit. There is no real change as a result of being sorry. 

But godly sorrow does a work. Real sorrow makes a difference. That is the kind of sorrow the Corinthians had had. It worked. Their sorrow did what real sorrow does. It produced repentance. And that is what godly sorrow always does. 

And the world's false sorrow? It only produces death. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Titus the comforter



For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more. - 
2 Corinthians 7:5

I really like it when we read about individual Christans and what they do to help each other. 

Here Paul speaks of  a man named Titus. As far as I know, or can find our quickly, this is the same Titus who went to Crete to plant a church and to whom Paul wrote a letter. Titus had just come to pay a visit. He is mentioned a few times in the next little bit, but here is a summary of the blessing he was. 

Paul and his team were tired and troubled. There were conflicts on the outside and they were afraid. I am glad he admitted that they were afraid.  That is  a comfort to me because sometimes I am afraid. 

Then along came Titus. His very coming comforted them. Paul was also comforted by the way the church had treated Titus. He was also comforted by their concern for him. 

I would love to be a comforter like Titus and Barnabas. I would love it if people could say that my coming was a comfort to them. 

May God remind me daily and strengthen me to be a comfort to others. 



Joy in trials

Open your hearts to us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have cheated no one. I do not say this to condemn; for I have said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation. - 2 Corinthians 7.2-4

A theme of 2 Corinthians is the trouble that Paul and his missionary team were experiencing. Paul makes it clear they the struggles were earlier and how at times had driven them almost to the point of giving up, but they kept going. 

What keeps people like that going? How do people keep on keeping on no matter what comes up? 

For Paul it was pretty simple. He was doing the work God wanted Him to do and he was faithful in doing it. 

Paul's opening words on this verse touch my heart 'open your hearts to us.' Paul wanted them to hear and apply what God had for them. 

'I have been faithful in my preaching. I have been bragging about you. I am full of comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in our trials.'

Paul knew what James wrote about when he said, 'my brethren count it as all joy when you experience all kind of trials.' He knew that trials were a step on the road to maturity. Trials are a part of life. The sooner we can learn to accept that and rejoice to see what God is doing the better off we will be. 

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Growing in holiness



Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. – 2 Corinthians 7.1

It is interesting how often holiness comes up in Paul's letters to the churches. In Corinth, much like in our world today, the Christians were surrounded by all kinds of filth and ugliness. They needed to know about holiness as much as we do. 

Victor Hugo gives a great example of what is means to be really and truly surrounded by filth when he describes Jean Valjean’s rescue of Marius though the sewers of Paris. As they make their way through the filth the readers gets a real sense of what is is like to be really, really dirty. 

Sometimes I feel that way in this world. Even worse, there are times when I feel that way about my own behaviour. Sometimes I feel dirty because I have been walking in the sewers of this world. 

Considering all that Paul has been talking about in the previous verses there is something we should be doing about this. 

Cleanse yourselves from all the filth of the flesh and the spirit. 
Perfect holiness in the fear of God. 

Our cleansing from filth must be both inward and outward. We can't just clean up on the outside. That is never enough and that is where we can too often put our focus. We must also clean up the filth on the inside. We really can't live for Christ while covered with the filth of the world. 

And all the time we are are to be in the constant process of 'perfecting holiness in the fear of God.' 

This perfecting is a life-long process. It doesn't happen overnight. Tyndale puts it this way: “and grow up to full holiness in the fear, of God.” As we put off the filth we must be constantly growing up to full holiness. 

As I look over the last few years I need to ask myself if I am closer to practical everyday holiness now than I was then. 

Am I cleaning myself from the the filth? Am I growing toward holiness? 

What a challenge for this Sunday morning. 

Unequally yoked

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.”
 Therefore
“Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”
 “I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.”  - 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

The doctrine of separation is one of those doctrines that is easy to abuse. It cannot be the be all and end all of associations. It can become the primary principle for some people and we can talk about primary, secondary, and tertiary separation. We can get to the point where we separate over every fine detail or preference. When separation rises that level we have gone too far.

On the other hand separation can become almost an optional thing where we drop all the barriers and think that the best way to reach the world is to become like the world. We can forget all about the importance to distance ourselves from the way of the world.

Paul lays the principle out clearly - do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. First notice that here at least, he is talking about unbelievers. That is the simple balance between the two extremes. This passage is most often used to explain why a believer should not marry an unbeliever, but that is just an example example of higher dangers of being yoked unequally. The Jewish readers here would have understood. The law said that you can't yoke an oxen with an ass. It's pretty simple. When you do that you couldn't plough is a straight line.

Many parts of the church seem think that acting like the world is the best was to God's work. Some churches and individuals think that the world's way is the best way. They actively get involved with the world and their activities and methods in order to try to reach out.

But we are not the world. We are the temple of God. The world is the temple of idols. We can't work as part of the world and its ways. We have to live in this world. There is no option about that.


But we need to live separate from the world. We can't withdraw completely. If we did that we would never reach them. But we need not take part in their ways while we are there. 

Friday, 15 November 2013

Restricted in our service

O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open.  -2 Corinthians 6:11 

Worldly affections are always going to cause us problems. It is way too easy to love the stuff of the world. The problem is that the stuff of the world is the thing that can affect our service. 

Paul writes to the Corinthians that they it was not the things he wrote that restricted their service. It is easy to think that way. If I could just do this or that and didn't have to worry about the scriptures thins would go much better. It is even possible to think that the Bible gets in the way. If we could just minister with all these Bible standards just think of what we could do. I recently heard of a church that was serving beer at their services as a way to draw people in. The world reported that the church  did this because of a drop off in numbers. 

But it is not standards  and Bible principles that hold us back. We are held back by one thing. 

'You are restricted by your affections.' 

Our affections are important. When Paul wrote to the Colossian church he told them to 'set their affections are things above and not on things here below.'  I think it is pretty obvious that if our thoughts and  affections and goals and desires are focused on what is going on down here we are not going to be able to focus on our eternal goals. If we are not focused on our eternal goals then our service for Christ is not going to be a priority. 

Let's be sure that we have our affections right. Let's not blame Bible standards  and violate them or compromise them because they just seem too strict or old fashioned. 

If we set our affections right, the rest will fall into place. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

In all things

But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God:in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours  in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honour and dishonour  by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things. - 2 Corinthians 6:4-10

Paul certainly had a way with words. Yes, I understand that the Holy Spirit breathed His word into the hearts of the writers, but we still see their ideas and personalities and vocabularies and writing styles in their writing. 

I like Paul's style. Here he is making the point that we put ourselves forth as ministers of God no matter what we face. 

I am not going to go through the whole list, but the point is clear. In everything thing we face and in every situation we just keep serving God. Paul speaks of all kinds of opposition and difficulties. 

But he also speaks of how we do it:

By purity
By knowledge
By patience
By kindness
By the Holy Spirit
By a pure life
By the word of God
By the power of God
By the armour of righteousness

God empowers us to be faithful servants in every situation. I don't need to go back and point out what Paul had been through, just look at the passage again. He certainly was qualified to make the statement that he made. 

The key is that we can't make that claim unless we are applying the truths in the list above. We can commend ourselves as servants of God, but it is important that we do it right. Otherwise we are always liable to cause offence. 

There is a way to keep going no matter what. Here it is. Will we do it?

No offence

We give no offence in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. – 2 Corinthians 6.3

Have you ever met a Christian who just always seems to delight in causing offence, and then claiming he was persecuted for the cause of Christ? I've known guys who were absolute jerks to people and then cried foul when people rejected them.


Where some people at some times have thought offensiveness meant a fervent witness, Paul simply wrote that in order to protect our ministry we cause no offence in anything we say or do.


If anything is going to give anyone any reason to reject the gospel it needs to be the message of the cross and that alone. It may cause offence to point out that all have sinned. It may cause opposition to say that there is nothing anyone can do about their sin in their own power. It may cause offence  to say that religion does no good. It may be offensive to say that all their good works mean nothing.


When we look at it is pretty obvious that the gospel is going to cause offence  It says, pretty clearly, that no matter how good a person thinks they are they are doomed and can't do anything about it.


But we as ministers of the gospel must never cause offence.


I think there are two aspects to that.


First, and most obvious, is the way we can be offensive in our witness. The gospel is never to be shared in arrogance and pride and judgement. To put it simply we can't be jerks when we share the gospel.


But I can think of another way to cause offence.


We cause offence when our actions contradict our words.


Somewhere about 1975 or so I was confronted with the reality of my life causing offence. I had been saved about 18 months. I had been fervent about sharing my faith. I was involved in Bible studies. I was faithful in church. I was active in an active campus Christian fellowship.


But I had started going slipping in my walk with the Lord. I was drinking pretty heavily again. No one would have guessed that I was a Christian. I went to a particular party one night with a couple of my friends. As we came back on the them said 'Parrow, you had better never try that Jesus but on us again, because now we'll never believe it's real.'


I guess that's what is really called 'causing offence.'


Let's be sure that we 'give no offence in anything' because when we do our ministry is surely hindered.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Now

For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.”Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. – 2 Corinthians 6.2

There is a place in the book of Acts where Paul talks to one of the judges he had to appear before. Paul clearly shares the gospel. The ruler says 'I am almost persuaded to accept Christ. 

The hymn writer P.P. Bliss took that a bit further in his hymn 'Almost Persuaded' in there  first stanza when he wrote:

“Almost persuaded” now to believe;
“Almost persuaded” Christ to receive;
  Seems now some soul to say,
  “Go, Spirit, go Thy way,
  Some more convenient day
    on Thee I’ll call.”

(Source: http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/h/1046#ixzz2k8xscCSL)

It is that last line I want address - 'some more convenient day on thee I'll call.' One of the problems that I face when trying to share the gospel is that some people just don't think it is a big deal. They think there will be plenty of time to deal with all that God stuff later. 

And sadly, sometimes, we too can swallow that same lie. We forget about the urgency of the gospel. Jesus said the work has all been done for the acceptable time. 

But that time is now - that day is today. 

Why is it so important? Because we are never assured another day. We are never assured of another moment. We can't take tomorrow for granted. 

Now is the time. Today is the day. We must work while it is day. The day is coming when we will not have the chance to work. 

Now is the time. Let's wake up and get busy. 

Monday, 11 November 2013

Co-workers

We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain – 2 Corinthians 6.1 

I have had several jobs in my lifetime. I have collected rubbish, cleaned toilets, crawled in dirty crawl spaces and hot attics, worked in sheet metal fabrication, taught school, worked in a youth centre, and even preached the gospel. I have, obviously, enjoyed some jobs more than others. My least favourite was cleaning toilets, not because of the obvious reason, but because I worked alone. 

One thing that makes jobs bearable is having the right co-workers. With good co-workers almost any task can be enjoyable. I remember many miserable days is attics or crawl spaces working with a friend named Tim Watts. The jokes and banter, and what we call craic in Ireland, made the days pass quickly.You  didn't dread the worst jobs because you were sharing it with someone. 

Well in doing God's work we have the ultimate co-worker. We are workers together with Christ. He doesn't just send us out on the job site with our tools and instructions and let us at it. He goes with us to the jobs site. 

When we get discouraged or frustrated or want to to quit when it gets tough we need to remember who we are working with. 

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Sin for us

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. - 2 Corinthians 5:21

I am, as the vernacular puts it, totally blown away by this astounding truth. 

He made Him, who knew no sin, to be made sin for us. 

There is so much astounding truth packed away in 2 Corinthians that sometimes we can miss the astoundingness. This is one of those 

As part of God's great plan of reconciliation He made the perfect Jesus, the one who 'knew no sin,' who never sinned, not once, to become sin in our place. 

Jesus took on sin for you and me. That is almost beyond my limited comprehension. How and why would the perfect holy one become sin when. He had no sin? Why would he experience the Father turning away while He suffered on the cross carrying the guilt and shame of my sin? 

Because He loves me with that great love wherewith He loved us, and so that we might become the righteousness of God, not in ourselves, but in Him. 

Praise God that the perfect  one became sin in my place, that I might spend eternity with Him. Praise God that Jesus became sin for me. 

Ambassadors

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us:we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. - 2 Corinthians 5:20

I like Star Trek. 

There, my little secret it out. Mary and I are slowly but surely working through the the original series on Netflix. It seems like every view episodes in Star Trek history from the the earliest voyages under Captain Jonathan Archer, through the command of James T. Kirk, and on to Captain Picard the various incarnations of the Enterprise was carrying an ambassador someplace on some kind of peace mission. 

Sometimes the ambassadors where good and sometimes they we bad, but they normally reflected the planet or the system they were from. You could almost always tell the nature of a race by their ambassador.  That was, after all, their job. They were sent to represent their people on am embassage to treat for peace. 

And in that regard we are called 'ambassadors for Christ.'  We carry the message of Christ's peace to our land of sojourning. We are called to a life-long ambassadorial mission. 

We need to ask ourselves on a regular basis. Are we representing our heavenly home? What kind of ambassadors are we? If people were to judge Gd and His heaven on my representation what would they think? 

Sometimes ambassadors have to take a risk for their home country. Are we willing to take those risks in order bring the world around us to peace with our King? 

Friday, 8 November 2013

Reconciled to reconcile

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. - 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

God has reconciled to Himself. 

Wait just a second. Let's not miss that.  God, the holy, perfect, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal, immortal, only wise creator and sustainer of the universe has reconciled sinful wicked men to Himself. 

Did you catch that? God has reconciled man to Himself. 

Let's look at that for a second. In the natural scheme of things there is a terrible imbalance on the books. God is love, but God is also just. That balances out, but man threw the books into inbalance when he sinned. Now the debit seems to outweigh the credit. God's love desires fellowship with creation, but his justice demands payment for sin. Something was needed to reconcile the books. 

One would think that the guilty party would be the one who would have to make the books right, but in this case the guilty party could no nothing. 

Quite a dilemma, huh? 

But not for God. He had a plan laid before the foundation of the world. 

He reconciled us to Himself by the death of His Son. As the great reconciler Jesus took the penalty that was required of balance the sin debt. 

And what does he want us to do about it? He has made us to be ministers of that reconciliation to bring his message to those around us. God took the amazing step of reconciling us to Himself through the death of his Son so that we can be used to bring others to reconciliation. 

Praise our great Reconciler! 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A new creation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. - 2 Corinthians 5.17

This is a powerful passage. There is no way we can possibly fully discuss it in one day's thoughts.  Here we have a very clear statement. No matter how we try to change it or how we try to excuse it the passage is clear and simple. 

If anyone truly is in Christ he is a new creation. Old things have passed away and all things have become new. 

You see that that says? It says if anyone is truly saved, or truly in Christ, he is a new creation. 

To personalise that it means that if I am truly saved there is a new Roger where the old Roger used to live. Of course, it is a bit of a bother that the new Roger has to live in that same old body of flesh with all of its draws and temptations. It is always going to be a struggle, but the new Roger has, or at very least, should have a new attitude. 

Where the old Roger would give in without a bother, the new Roger sees the wrongness of sin. If he does fail he knows he has failed, confesses, and seeks to do better next time. If Roger is never bothered by his sin he had better to check on the reality of being in Christ. 

Our old man was crucified with Christ, but we have been raised to walk in newness of life. Salvation always brings about a change. We can't be in Christ and be the same we we were without Christ. 

Are we living like new creations? Do our lives evidence this reality?

Here it is in black and white. If any man is in Christ he is a new creation. If there is no evidence of a new creation then can a man really be counted as in Christ? 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Seeing with Jesus' eyes

Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. - 2 Corinthians 5.16

For part of my Christian life I was a real jerk. Well, I still am capable of being quite a jerk, but hopefully I have seen some growth. I was at one time really, really bad about judging people based totally on their appearance. I saw them through my own proud and judgementally sinful eyes. My view of others was only based on the flesh. 

But Paul says that now because of what Christ has done we see no one according to the flesh. 

I like to think about this as looking at people with Jesus' eyes. I am far from perfect but I consciously strive to see people the way Jesus would. 

Our town has its share of town characters. One of them is a lady most people call 'the crazy dog lady.' She walks around town pushing a baby stroller with who knows what in it. She wears her sunglasses down around her chin. She is rough. She even spat sunflower seed shells at Mary one day. I often see her on my walks and one day got convicted about my attitude toward her. The next time I saw her I stopped and introduced myself. I have to admit it was a little scary. She seems a little strange. 

Anyway, I walked up and said hello. I introduced myself. We chatted for a bit. I told her I was a Christian. I found out that her name in Bernadette. Bernadette has changed. She still has a crowd of dogs wandering around her. She still wears strange clothes and has her sunglasses resting on her chin.  But she is not the 'crazy dog lady.' Her name is Bernadette. She has a life. She has ideas and opinions. She loves her dogs. When her little Jack Russell lost a leg she pushed him around in the baby stroller.

 I think the difference came when it hit me that Jesus died for Bernadette. When I see her now I see a person for whom Jesus went to the cross. He shed His blood for her just like He did for me. We are becoming friends and I am looking and praying for the chance to tell her what Jesus did for her. 

But it's not just the Bernadettes of this world. It the pop icons that we see on TV acting out their broken lives in ways that are shameful. It's the wicked corrupt politicians. It's the enemies who threaten our way of life and indeed our lives themselves. 

I remember seeing a late interview with Michael Jackson. I was sitting there with my arrogant self righteous attitude. But as I sat there I was reminded that Jesus died for this man. I saw him as a man who needed Christ. My heart broke as I saw a man broken by the ravages of sin. 

How about the 'crazy dog lady' or other character in your town? Are you willing to see her (or him) 'not according to the flesh?' These folks are so valuable that Jesus went to the cross for them. What are they worth to us. 

I have a good friend in prison outreach. How about the people he sees on a regular basis who, admittedly because of their own sin, are the castoffs of society? Are they really worth his time? After all, they broke the law, they are getting what they deserve! Are we willing to see them 'not according to the flesh,' but with Jesus' eyes. 

I could go on and on. I won't even mention the immigration debate. 

But let's start simple and basic. How are you going to see that town character the next time they cross your path. Will you see them according to the flesh, or will you see them with the eyes of Jesus? 

Monday, 4 November 2013

All for Jesus

and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. - 2 Corinthians 5:15

One of the many questions on we could ask ourselves on a regular basis is 'what am I living for?' 

I have mentioned before that I like me. I like to please me. I like to do things that benefit me. I like to, well, live for me. 

But I no longer have any right to live for me. Jesus died for me, so I can longer live for me. Now I must live for Him. 

That concept flies in the face of what the world says. The world says it is all about me. If I don't watch out for me no one else will. You gotta take care of number one. 

We live in a success driven society. The church is not exempt. We can accept the idea that success for a minister means he makes a name for himself. Everyone wants the big name or the famous author to pastor their church or come as a guest speaker. 

That can be tough for the vast majority of servants who struggle along and plod through their ministries and nobody even knows they are. But there is something we all need to figure out whether we serve in the biggest mega church or with a handful of believers. It is not about us. We don't live to make a name for ourselves. It makes no difference if no one ever knows our names.  

All that matters is that we serve the one who gave His life for us. 

It is not about pleasing me. It is not about having it my way. It is not about Roger. 

It is all about my Jesus. 

I think this songwriter puts it well: 

Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.
All of my ambitions, hopes and plans
I surrender these into Your hands.
For it's only in Your will that I am free,
For it's only in Your will that I am free,
Jesus, all for Jesus,
All I am and have and ever hope to be.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

The love of Christ compels me

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died;  - 2 Corinthians 5.14

There are a lot of things that can compel us to service. There are some Christians who are motivated by competition. some are motivated by peer pressure, pastor pressure, or personal pressure. 

In the 70s and 80s the churches I was in would have been real big on pressuring folks into service. All kinds of prizes and trophies were up for offer. So and so pastor would shave his head or so and so bus director would eat a goldfish. 

Sure, rewards are nice, but that can't be our motivation. Pressure cannot be our motivation. Tricks and treats cannot be our motivation. Fear of the pastor screaming at me cannot be my motivation. The lure of success cannot be my motivation.  The desire to impress cannot be my motivation. One thing should compel me to service. 

The love of Christ compels me. The old KJV said 'the love of Christ constrains us.' 

I really like the picture of 'constrain.' I see a water line where the diameter of the pipe is constrained to force the water to move along. I don't think I am out of line to parrowphrase this 'the love of Christ pressures us.' 

It is only as we forget about all the other pressures to serve Christ and let the love of Christ pressure us that we can really truly serve Him in the right way. 

What more powerful motivation could we have than the love of Christ? His love led Him to the cross to pay the penalty for my sin. Not only that his love led him to pay the penalty for is for everyone around me. If all of us were worth that much to Him, should that not motivate me to share that love with others?

Love is the greatest motivator of all. 

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Bema seat

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences. For we do not commend ourselves again to you, but give you opportunity to boast on our behalf, that you may have an answer for those who boast in appearance and not in heart. – 2 Corinthians 5.10-12

I have to admit from the very start - I don't fully understand this passage. I am not theologian enough to figure this all out. But here it is, right in the context of talking about being absent from the body and present with the Lord. We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ to receive rewards based on what we have done.  

Paul uses the same phrase in Romans 14.10 (But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ) when talking about how we deal with each other when we differ on things not covered in scripture. 

I think my confusion comes with this word 'judgement?' When Paul writes here he writes of the Bema. The Bema was a stand at the Isthmian games where the winners of their sports competition were rewarded with a laurel crown. I think the best illustration for us today would be the Olympics winner’s podium. Of purse, like any human illustration, it falls short of perfection to show a Bible truth, but bear with me. 

In the Olympics the winners are rewarded, but all the competitors are honoured. The rewards are greater for some than others. The losers are not beaten or shot or hung. 

All of the judgement for our sin was paid on the cross. We dont have to fear the wrath of a God being poured out on us. 

The previous verse talks about aiming to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. We are all going to succeed at that at various levels. Since this is the context for the Bema seat I can't help think that pleasing the Lord will be the basis of our rewards, or lack of them. But praise God we will all be there for the closing ceremony. 

I have to tell you though. I'd kinda like to think that I will be pleasing enough to him to be rewarded at the Bema. 

Now, I am not going to try and build any doctrine on this, but so far that is my take on the Bema. 

To please Him

Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. - 2 Corinthians 5:9

While we by faith instead of sight we have a clear purpose laid out for us. 

It makes no difference where we are. We can be here or there. We can be alive or dead. We can be present in the body and absent from the Lord or we can be absent from the body and present with the Lord. We can be in good times or bad times. We can be in the valley or on the mountaintop. It makes no difference. 

Our aim is simple 

We make it our aim...to be well pleasing to Him. 

I think we need to ask ourselves who we are aiming to please. My biggest problem he comes in the fact that I like to please me. I enjoy pleasure. I like to have the meal I like. I like to do the things I want to do. I am, indeed, sometimes all about pleasing me. 

Paul couldn't make it any clearer could he? Our aim is to be well pleasing to Christ. 

It's not a law. It is not a regulation. It is simply a matter of pleasing the One who gave up all for us. 

This isn't real complicated. I think we need to honestly ask ourselves who we aimed to please yesterday. Even more important than that, who are we going to aim to please today? 

Friday, 1 November 2013

Faith, not sight

So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. - 2 Corinthians 5.6-8

I am always challenged by Paul's view on living here and living in heaven. In another place he says that he is caught between two choices. He wants to go to heaven and be with Christ, but he also wants to be doing the work he loves. 

And that is something of a dilemma, isn't it? Sure, we all want to go to heaven, but at the same time we kind of like being alive now. After all, going to heaven means you have to die, and most folks don't really want to do that. 

So here we are, stuck in the middle - absent from the Lord, but having to absent this body in order to be with him. 

We only have one real option. We choose to live by faith in what God says and not at what we can see. We walk by faith, not by sight. 

What does that mean? It means that we don't get bogged down in the hard times and challenges. We don't let sight control our faith. We don't take our eyes off Jesus like Peter did when he walked on the water. 

One day we are going to depart this flesh. We will vacate there flesh to be present with the Lord. That, not the desires, whims, and temptations of the flesh, should control our lives today.